Neo-noir 'Shanghai' never really comes to life

  • A gangster's wife (Gong Li) falls for an American agent (John Cusack) during 1941 in the ill-conceived neo-noir murder mystery "Shanghai."

    A gangster's wife (Gong Li) falls for an American agent (John Cusack) during 1941 in the ill-conceived neo-noir murder mystery "Shanghai."

 
 
Posted10/1/2015 5:45 AM

Mini-review: 'Shanghai'

In the neo-noir murder mystery/historical epic/espionage drama "Shanghai," John Cusack wears an ill-fitting gumshoe's suit and fedora while uttering pseudo Chandleresque voice-over narrated nuggets such as "I did what you do when you work a puzzle: Stare at it until it makes sense."

 

No amount of staring is going to help viewers understand this turgid, anemic, already five-year-old motion picture from Swedish director Mikael Hfstrm, reuniting with Cusack from his 2007 Stephen King-inspired horror tale "1408."

Cusack plays Paul Soames, an American agent posing as a Nazi-sympathizing journalist in 1941 Shanghai to investigate the killing of his best bud/naval intelligence officer Conner (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Japan has invaded China. Public executions have become routine. Americans could be in danger. Yet, Soames appears to be totally bored, uninterested in pursuing the truth.

Conner's local informer (Benedict Wong) puts him on the trail of Chinese gangster/nightclub owner Anthony Lang-Ting (Chow Yun-fat) and his gorgeously slithery wife Anna (Gong Li), forced to cowtow to commanding Japanese officer Captain Tanaka (Ken Watanabe).

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Even if the muddled story and its paint-by-numbers characters made perfect sense, "Shanghai" fails to inspire any reason why we should be invested with people, especially Cusack's distracted agent, given to narrating brainless sentences such as "The world had changed and it would never be the same!"

"Shanghai" opens at the Chatham Studio Movie Grill in Chicago. Rated R for drug use, language and violence. 105 minutes. ★

• Dann Gire's Reel Life column runs Friday in Time out!

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